Thursday, January 18, 2024

#AuthorInterview with Howard Frederic Ibach, author of Already Home

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Howard Frederick Ibach, author of Already Home: Confronting the Trauma of Adoption.

FQ: Thank you for your time today. Before we discuss the mechanics of your memoir, I’d like to learn more about you. It’s interesting to learn you were raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and eventually ended up in Southern California. I’m assuming your work took you there initially, or was that a conscious choice to end up in Southern California?

IBACH: My career in advertising as a copywriter and creative director often required me to chase the work. I started in Milwaukee and worked at three ad agencies, then a recruiter landed a position for me in Chicago. I got laid off and moved to LA to be closer to a guy with whom I had a quasi-relationship that is too complicated to describe here, but related to your last question on this list, will be the subject of my next two memoirs, one of which is already a 215-page first draft.

I lived in LA for 10 years and planted some deep roots, but work dried up and I took a job in Minneapolis that was a career advancement even if it meant leaving what I called my “adopted home” in LA. Minneapolis lasted eight years, then I was recruited again, this time to a job in New Jersey. It was a bad career move and decision, but it allowed me to transition to teaching. I landed an adjunct instructor’s position at Essex Community College in Newark. After a year in NJ, the lease to my condo rental was up so I had to move. I decided to make it a big move and returned to LA where I taught college, then switched to corporate training. I moved to Austin, TX, in 2021 to be closer to my family and my father, who was 95, and was blessed to have been by his side almost to the moment of his passing 14 months later. That left me at loose ends, so I decided to return to California, but this time to the desert where I had quite a few friends. LA was only two hours away by car, so it was a happy compromise. My first experience living in a small town but close enough to a major metropolitan to enjoy both.

FQ: In line with my previous question, what would be one of your favorite things about Wisconsin? Southern California? And why?

IBACH: It’s a hard choice between my boyhood home and its surroundings, specifically the ravine, and Lake Keesus, where my maternal grandparents lived and where, as kids, we spent many summers swimming, boating and later for me, water skiing, which became a passion through my college years.

Los Angeles is an acquired taste. It is so big in so many ways you struggle to appreciate it completely. It combined geographic beauty with squalor, seemingly unlimited possibility with shallowness, but I established deep friendships among such a variety of people. Which made it so heartrending to leave when I was forced to take a job in Minneapolis. Where Wisconsin was about places and experiences, LA and California were more about people.

FQ: I was drawn to your belief that you were never a ‘victim’ as an adoptee. Rather, you were on a mission to understand if there was anything about your personality that was formed, given the fact you were adopted. The two books you cited early on by Nancy Verrier (The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child and Coming Home to Self: The Adopted Child Grows Up) sound like solid beginnings toward understanding. How do you feel about ‘self-help’ publications? Do you approach them as a resource to assist in formulating your opinion?

Author Howard Frederick Ibach

IBACH: Nancy Verrier’s books are not self-help by any definition. They were both clinical research tomes, especially Coming Home to Self, which was a slog to read. Primal Wound was more digestible, but you would never find either title in the “self-help” section of a bookstore.

My opinion about adoption was formed long before I read either book. I reacted to both books, rather negatively as I think you gathered from my memoir. I treated them as obstacles to overcome and the more closely I examined Verrier’s arguments, the more I realized how flawed her research was. And then three years into the journey and the writing of my memoir, I discovered Michael Grand, almost by accident. Here was a fellow adoptee and practicing psychologist who challenged the accepted wisdom and offered a counterargument to Verrier, and even more, an explanation of what my adoptive parents did to raise me, completely unwittingly. Their instincts and love made the difference.

FQ: To expand further on Ms. Verrier’s views on the subject of adoption: "...It is thought by many psychologists that [...] a feeling of rightness, well-being, and wholeness [...] is a state of primary narcissism considered appropriate to this stage of life… But when the infant is separated from their birth mother, the ‘opposites of this state are the feelings of anxiety, sorrow, and loneliness..." I think I personally read this observation three times and still cannot grasp what she is trying to say. As a subject matter of her formulated view, what is your interpretation?

IBACH: Adoption is a traumatic experience for infant, birth mother and adoptive mother. It is an unnatural thing to remove a newborn and place it with an unfamiliar woman, no matter how caring and loving she may be. These are facts. No one disputes this part.

An adopted newborn, however, is not conscious of itself, and won’t be for a number of years. This is what “a feeling of rightness, well-being and wholeness...a primary narcissism” refers to. The infant knows only that this new creature holding him doesn’t sound the same, feel the same, smell the same. It's not MOM, the woman I lived inside of for nine months.

I think Verrier is essentially correct in these observations. Where she falters is when she takes her clinical observations and tries to draw conclusions about all adoptees. She never saw or treated adoptees who were not scarred or did not feel abandoned or rejected or bad or some other negative emotion. In other words, she never treated people like me. Why not? I had no reason to seek out her or someone in her profession for help. I was not in need. So Verrier’s conclusions are limited to only those people who came to see her. There is no control group of people like me that she could compare to the people she treated. This is fundamentally bad science. It’s the difference between clinical research and scientific research.

FQ: I’m a strong believer that there are no coincidences in life. When you were at the crossroads in your relationship with Zoe, and ultimately determined you would be taking separate paths, was there an instant flood of emotions that pointed to that moment as the deciding factor to learn what your life meant as an adoptee? Was that a struggle to embrace initially?


FQ: In line with my previous question, why do you suppose there could be a negative ‘stigma’ attached to the concept of adoption? Shouldn’t this be more of a glorious moment for the child, i.e., there are people in our world who want to provide a home, nurture, and a sense of security to another being? Please share your views on this concept.

IBACH: For me and for my sister Mary Jo (Jo), yes, our lives were glorious years, decades, in a wonderful home with wonderful opportunities. I think most adoptees move up in the world socioeconomically.

But not all adoptees are treated the same. This I came to learn about as I was taking the journey and writing my book. There are adoptees—what percentage I do not know—who were treated as second-class siblings. I have a friend who was treated this way. She is African American adopted into a white family, and her grandparents, perhaps well-intentioned, made a point of saying to her that she was their “special black baby.” She felt it separated her from the rest of the family. She did not experience her life as an adoptee the way I did.

FQ: Is there a moment when you arrived at the intersection of your life growing up and now folding your birth relations (siblings) into the mix where you were thinking, perhaps knowing this exists is enough, and now I can move on with my life? To quote you: "...My life was full. My life has never not been complete..." (pg. 127). What was your moment of reckoning to keep moving forward with your discoveries, and why?

IBACH: Forgive me, but I think I’ll refer you back to my book. I spent five years writing and rewriting and rewriting again the chapters where I explain this. I can’t and won’t try to improve on those pages here.

FQ: It’s interesting to dissect the different cultures, accents, and mannerisms throughout the demographics of our country. When you are about to embark on the part of the country where your birth family is from (the Deep South), you have moments of stereotypical thoughts: “...I faced a gap of experience unlike anything I have ever tried to bridge. Familiar but uncomfortable thoughts crept into my thinking: Was I guilty of believing the stereotype that everyone in the South was a bigot, a racist, a white supremacist?" (pg. 144) If you had the opportunity to give a talk to a group of people and introduce what the South represents for you, what would be your opening line and why?

IBACH: First, let me correct you. I did not have stereotypical “thoughts.” I asked questions that revealed my fears of being stereotypical. There’s a huge difference.

Second, I would never accept a speaking engagement on that topic.

FQ: I want to thank you for your time today and commend you on a well-thought-out memoir of your experiences as an adoptee. Are you working on your next project, and if so, what can we expect to read next from you?

IBACH: I have two books coming out in 2024. One is a rewrite of a short biographical sketch of the late Stanley Holden, former Royal Ballet soloist and long-time ballet teacher in Los Angeles, who died in 2007. We were friends and collaborators for the last nine years of his life. I wrote a long-form article commemorating the 15th anniversary of his passing and published it in 2022. Now I’m bringing it out in revised form as an ebook and paperback.

Second, I’m publishing a collection of short essays, edited and revised versions of blog posts, on the nuts and bolts of writing creative briefs, which is my area of subject-matter expertise. The topic relates to an important document advertisers use, called a creative brief, to inspire their creative partners to come up with their ad campaigns. I was in the ad industry for twenty-six years and have published two critically acclaimed graphic textbooks on creative briefs.

I am now writing a new memoir about the emotional and psychological intricacies I experienced forty years ago when I plunged head-first into a relationship I knew would end badly. It did, twelve years later. But I did it anyway. I want to explore why I did this, but not a superficial looky-loo, as if I’m in a car on the highway speeding past a major car wreck. I want to take a real dive into what happens when the human brain and heart lose all sense of reason. I plan to do the same kind of research for this that I did for the memoir.

The memoir to follow is already written, about 215 pages of a first draft. It’s when I started setting it up in my writing software and reread much of it (it collected dust for years) that I realized it made no sense without a prequel. It’s about how I extricated myself from the toxic relationship I mentioned above and built a life as a thirty-something adult in LA. It also coincides with my acknowledging my bisexuality at the age of 40.

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